The United Arab Emirates has grown into a global aluminum powerhouse, but building a smelter in the desert is a recipe for many headaches. Power and water are among the greatest. Dubai Aluminium (DUBAL) runs one of the largest aluminum plants in the world just south of Dubai. To keep the metal flowing, DUBAL consumes 90 percent of electricity produced by the smelter’s private power plant that makes more electricity than the Hoover Dam. Its seawater desalination plant is processing 30 million gallons per day. This is expensive. DUBAL’s electricity bill adds up to a third of its production costs.
Five years ago, with Chinese competition growing, DUBAL asked GE to cut the plant’s power appetite. GE knew the smelter well. In 1980 it installed DUBAL’s fleet of 19 gas turbines. Replacing the reliable but aging machines with new turbine technology was an obvious choice. But GE went a step further. It built DUBAL an “intelligent” big data system that monitors and gathers information from thousands of locations around the plant’s power grid, and feeds it to a cluster of computer servers. They crunch the data, and optimize electricity flows and power generation. “It’s the brain behind the power system, it collects everything that is collectable,” says GE’s Ravi Jeloka, who managed the system development and roll out.
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The system resembles Google’s traffic application, but one that let’s you play the traffic cop. It monitors grid capacity and sends power around busy points through open cables. To do that, Jeloka’s engineers need as complete picture of the grid as possible. “If the electrical resistance data is incorrect, the power could go the wrong way,” he says. “The more data you have, the better power management job you can do.” The system is collecting megabytes of real-time information like substation voltage and transformer data every few seconds from more than 10,000 points on the grid. All this information flows to a control room, where another software application builds a snapshot of the grid and displays it on a single computer screen.
The new GE system, which was developed by GE workers in Florida and customized by a team of engineers in Hyderabad, India, makes the DUBAL smelter 22 percent more efficient, cuts nitrogen oxide by nearly a third, and saves the company $4 million in annual fuel costs. In fact, DUBAL saves so much in electricity expenses that the upgrade will pay for itself in just three years.
This week, GE’s DUBAL work received an American Metal Market’s Award for Aluminum Excellence. GE Energy website tells the DUBAL story here. Take a look.